Stormers prepare for aerial assault

Rassie Erasmus cites the battle for territory as decisive to the outcome at Loftus Versfeld this Saturday.

The Stormers coach has picked Willem de Waal at flyhalf in an attempt to nullify the Bulls’ superiority in this department, and coupled with the left boot of former Springbok Percy Montgomery the visitors shouldn’t want for power or accuracy. Nick Koster has also been preferred on the wing, as his kicking and aerial skills exceed those of Fijian Sireli Naqelevuki, who’s proved something of a liability under the high ball.

The Stormers will have one training session to adjust to the altitude on Friday morning. Bulls halfbacks Fourie du Preez and Morne Steyn will be difficult to top, but failure in this department could mean defeat.

“The ball travels further and our kickers will need to alter their kicking games accordingly, even more so under the ELVs,” Erasmus told keo.co.za.

“The Bulls have a very strong kicking game and as you can see from their last three matches they try to pin the opposition in their own half. Then they have that great defensive line that makes it very hard to gain any ground.

“They went away from that pattern in 2008, but I see they have gone back to it this season.”

Bulls rugby isn’t exactly rocket science, but understanding their pattern has not helped the Stormers in recent years. Neither the Stormers nor Western Province have won a match at Loftus since the 2006 Absa Currie Cup. 2004 was the last time the Stormers beat the Bulls in a Super 14 clash.

“We know what to expect and we know what to do, but it’s still a matter of getting it right on the day,” said Erasmus.

The Stormers coach also highlighted the number of Springboks in the Bulls side and expects them to have an impact this Saturday.

“Fourie will be a big threat with his kicking game, and they have some great ball-carriers in Pierre Spies and Danie Rossouw. And then guys like Wynand Olivier has been running some good lines too. We’re also happy that Bryan Habana is not playing.

“Fourie is a good leader and besides his great boot, he takes the right options. His decision-making complements his skill and that’s what makes him such a good rugby player.”

The Stormers will also need to contend with Bakkies Botha, and with Victor Matfield set to play in the second half the forward assault could be relentless.

The Cape franchise have fared poorly in the second half of all three of their matches thus far. Breaking the trend and burying the hoodoo of Loftus could be too much to ask.

By Jon Cardinelli